California Ski Law

No ski safety statute. Cal. Civ. Code § 846 exculpates property owners from liability in cases involving non-commercial recreational use of their land, excepting “willful and wanton” conduct. The doctrine of primary assumption of risk and “inherent danger” has not been codified at the state level (some counties have relevant ordinances), but exists in case law. Tramways are governed by Cal. Labor Code §§ 7340 to 7357, and their personnel subject to Division of Labor regulation. Cal. Public Utilities Code § 212(c) excludes ski lifts from the definition of “common carrier.”


Review a few cases below from California surrounding Ski Law.

Prior to 2006

In Cheong v. Antablin, 946 P.2d 817 (Cal. 1997), the California Supreme Court held that “under the applicable common law principles, a skier owes a duty to fellow skiers not to injure them intentionally or to act recklessly, but a skier may not sue another for simple negligence” (setting forth a gross negligence standard for skier/skier collisions; assumption of risk defense successful, rejecting plaintiff’s argument that ordinance’s enumeration of skier duties created an obligation higher than the common law). The Cheong court held that the ordinance did not provide a cause of action for skier/skier collisions on any basis, including negligence per se, as the ordinance in question was not enacted to protect the class of persons to whom plaintiff belonged (skiers), but was intended solely to protect operators. The court reaffirmed its unanimous opinions in Neighbarger v. Irwin Industries, Inc., 882 P.2d 347 (Cal. 1994) and Parons v. Crown Disposal Co., 936 P.2d 70 (Cal. 1997) that distinguished between instances of primary assumption of risk (where defendant has no duty to protect because a danger is inherent), and of secondary assumption of risk (where defendant has a duty and its breach causes injury to plaintiff). In Knight v. Jewett, 834 P.2d 696 (Cal. 1992), the leading case addressing assumption of risk defense, the court held that the only duty co-participants and site operators have is a duty “to use due care not to increase the risks . . . over and above those inherent in the sport” (the court concluded that assumption of risk survived legislative adoption of comparative negligence, in a ruling opposite to Vermont’s Sunday case). Alternately, the Freeman test has been used in lesser courts to determine that a risk is not “inherent” if “the prohibition of that conduct would neither deter vigorous participation in the sport nor otherwise fundamentally alter the nature of the sport.” Freeman v. Hale, 30 Cal. App. 4th 1388, 1394 (Cal. Ct. App. 1994). According to a federal court, whether a duty exists by virtue of such a duty being deemed outside the scope of risks inherent in the sport is resolved as a matter of law. Randall v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, 63 F.Supp.2d 1251 (E.D. Cal. 1999). Judicial determinations of inherent risk have varied. Freeman, above (increased collision risk due to alcohol consumption not inherent); Connelly v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, 39 Cal. App. 4th 8 (Cal. Ct. App. 1995) (skiing into lift tower an inherent risk); Campbell v. Derylo, 75 Cal. App. 4th 823 (Cal. Ct. App. 1999) (triable issue existed as to whether failure to use required snowboard retention strap increased risk beyond those inherent, where use would not chill participation). The California Supreme Court has upheld an express waiver as a complete defense.Knight, above. In O’Donoghue v. Bear Mountain Ski Resort, 30 Cal. App. 4th 188 (Cal. Ct. App. 1994), the court denied relief to a skier, experienced with the particular run, that mistook an unmarked ravine full of boulders for a catwalk and was injured; the court found primary assumption of an inherent risk for which ski area operator had no duty to mitigate, as well as skier’s contractual waiver by virtue of lift ticket language. A release is generally held valid where a claim arises from negligent maintenance or adjustment of equipment by a rental operator, but other claims may survive. Westlye v. Look Sports, Inc., 17 Cal. App. 4th 1715 (Cal. Ct. App. 1993) (strict products liability action against manufacturer or distributor may still be available). In a case alleging both normal and gross negligence in operation of a lift, injuring a child participating in ski school, waiver signed by mother upheld. Platzer v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, 104 Cal. App. 4th 1253 (Cal. Ct. App. 2002), review denied.